Spartans make early regional exit
TAMPA - The University of Tampa baseball team might look back at this season in a few weeks as a success, with another No. 1 national ranking, another Sunshine State Conference title and another South Region tournament appearance. But today and for a few days to come, the Spartans' 0-2 NCAA Division II South Region tournament showing is going to sting. The season ended in disappointment for the Spartans (38-1) on Friday as they fell behind West Florida quickly and couldn't get back in the game, losing 7-4. Spartans coach Joe Urso said after the loss that both the No. 1 Spartans and the defending national champion Argos were desperate to stay alive."I think both teams came in with high expectations, and in the losers' bracket you are just waiting for something to wake you up," Urso said. "And unfortunately it was (West Florida) who got the breaks." After a nearly 5-hour, opening-round, 13-inning loss Thursday to Stillman College of Tuscaloosa, Ala., Urso said he knew the steep challenge ahead for his team. He had the right guy in place, as ace Sean Bierman had the start, but West Florida (35-18) followed in Stillman's steps by making small ball work and taking advantage of some big innings. After four innings, the Spartans trailed 7-0, as choppers up the middle and well-placed bunts gave the Argos all they needed and UT's senior lefty was chased from the game."Nothing was going right, and it just spiraled down from there," Bierman said. "It was a fun season that didn't end the way we wanted. Two and out, it shouldn't happen being the Spartans. It's a tough pill to swallow." The Spartans tried to claw back with a three-run fourth inning as a pair of hits from Andrew Jones and Eric Grabe were cashed in on a Zach Gawrych fielder's choice, and Gawrych and Grabe scored on Heath Pritchard's double. The Argos, however, escaped a couple of trying innings as junior lefty Drew Bryson clamped down to earn his fifth win of the year, throwing 121 pitches over eight innings. West Florida's Bobby Parker tied a school record by notching his 14th save of the year. Grabe, who was by far the Spartans' best hitter in the tournament, went 6-for-8 in the tournament with a solo home run in the seventh inning Friday, accounting for UT's final run.